Trek Review: “Amok Time”

Star Trek barely staved off cancellation, but got renewed. Most TV shows that get a reprieve and see a second season might get retooled and become worse off and then lose their popularity very quickly. In the case of Trek however, thank goodness, it did not.

The cast and crew deserved to have a few weeks off in between the two seasons, and they returned in May 1967 to being filming the second season. When it came time for all of their hard work over the summer to finally be seen on NBC, the powers that be had several excellent episodes to draw from, in my opinion.

Of all of the episodes, I think they picked the best one of the whole lot, “Amok Time,” to open the broadcast schedule on September 15th, 1967.

The story revolves around Spock, betrothed to a Vulcan woman named T’Pring at the age of seven, having to return to his home planet to answer his mating call, known as Pon Farr. He has to fight Captain Kirk to the death in a very memorable combat sequence, known not only for the visuals, but also for Gerald Fried’s awesome music.

This episode embodies just how wonderful the characterization and the concept of Star Trek is so unique in its own regard. I always put myself in Kirk’s place in this show, trying to think of “What would I have done?” In every instance, I wouldn’t change a decision he made. Spock is not only his First Officer, but his friend, and deserves more than to just be brushed off by the service because of some diplomatic mission. It’s not that easy for most people to put their career on the line for the sake of one individual, but Kirk doesn’t care. He shouldn’t care.

One plot element that makes a brief reappearance here is Nurse Chapel, played by Majel Barrett, and her affection for Spock. She tried to give him some Plomeek Soup (a Vulcan delicacy) at a couple of points. I am surprised they never explored that plot point more in future episodes, but then again, as NBC had a long standing disdain for Barrett in the first place, I can see why they didn’t.

The thing about this episode that immortalizes it for me, and for many others, is the aforementioned music score by Gerald Fried. How many TV scores that you know of are quoted in other movies? I am referring of course to the ubiquitous fight music from Act Four. It was quoted in the comedy movie “The Cable Guy” by Jim Carrey during a scene set in a medieval themed restaurant. The guitar-based theme for Spock just embodies the spookiness and logical aspects of his character so, so well. It fits like a glove. I couldn’t imagine this show without that score. Rip it away and you have only half of the story.

As I said before, this was the perfect show to open the season. This episode surely would make me and the rest of the audience feel for 100% certain that the letter writing campaign to save the show earlier in the year was worth every effort.

Next week: Greek salad, or gods, take your pick…


“Star Trek” Season One Thoughts

The first season of a television series is interesting.  The characters are new and have a lot of wiggle room for the audience to get to know them as well as the actors who portray them.  The writers, directors, producers and all the people who create the show also have the same challenge of trying to bring to the screen an interesting, engaging and dynamic piece of storytelling as well.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

And then there’s Star Trek.  You see, it’s the show that broke conventional wisdom.  It was classic from the get-go.  It’s not like they had to try very hard to do well.  The characters were very strong and fresh from the moment they first called “Action!” on the set.  True, the writing may have been a bit suspect at times, but every story had one thing going for it:  it always attempted to be ambitious.

It could be said however that the show had two sides to its season, and it all boiled down to who produced the show.  The first half of the season was produced by the series creator, Gene Roddenberry, and the second half by Gene Coon.  The tale of two Genes has been told in print time and time again, so I’ll save you from regurgitating the background info (go seek out any number of books on this topic if you’re interested) and just give you my thoughts.

You can definitely tell a slight shift in how the characters interacted when Coon arrived.  The one dynamic that Gene Coon brought to the show was the strong bond between Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  That is what I always referred to as the “strong triad” of the show.  If you don’t get that central core relationship right, you don’t have Star Trek.  All of the other themes will naturally fall into place, but what those three do is of vital importance to make any story work.  Look at some of the best episodes, like my favorite, “The City on the Edge of Forever.”  While McCoy make have been doped up on Cordrazine, Kirk and Spock realize that what he did must be corrected, but they never blame him directly for what’s going on.  A lot of TV shows these days would just outright blame him for negligence and make a whole 13 to 22 episode arc out of said negligence.  That’s the reason I don’t get into a lot of new TV shows, by the way.   Where a lot of TV shows fail in my book is that they fail to make me like the characters as well as I like these three.

Before you reach for that comment box, I do watch new TV shows, just the ones with characters I like.

The supporting players are just as vital to the show’s success.  Where else on TV 50 years ago could you see a diverse mix of races all working together on a ship?  Nobody putting the other down or hurling racial epithets at each other?  That aspect was truly ahead of its time.  Sadly, however, in 2017, that kind of acceptance and collaboration is still a challenge for a lot of people.  We all need to work together and treat each other equally, especially now.

You can’t think of this show without thinking of the massive fan support that was generated.  I do think that the network brain trust at NBC certainly was not expecting the massive letter writing campaign that they got to protest the rumors that Star Trek might be cancelled.  I do applaud them for taking the step of not only renewing the show, but making an on-air announcement to such (during the closing credits of “The Devil in the Dark” on March 2nd, 1967.)  I know that if I were around then, I would probably be devouring any information I could find about how to join a fan club and probably writing a letter as well to add to the mass protest that ultimately saved the show from cancellation.

Put simply, what a season!  The first season of any show is the most interesting one in my opinion.  It always is and always will be true.  I firmly believe that.

Trek Review: “Operation: Annihilate!”

So, it’s come to this.  Our favorite crew against these plastic-looking blobs on the planet Deneva that afflict pain and mind control against their victims.  In a nutshell, that sums up the episode “Operation: Annihilate!”

In this episode, we finally get to meet some unfortunate victims of Captain Kirk’s family.  His brother Sam (played by Shatner with a moustache) is DOA in this plot.  Aurelan, his sister-in-law, and Peter, his nephew.  Aurelan dies in a very memorable scene in sickbay.  Peter never really comes out of it, at least in the footage that made the cut.  There was a scene filmed, intended to be at the very end of the episode, in which Peter appears on the bridge and tells his Uncle that he is staying behind on Deneva.

Scene with Peter Kirk that was cut from the episode

Let’s take a moment to talk about the creatures themselves.  Take a look at this image:

“It doesn’t even look real!” You said it, Yeoman!

I know the show was on a tight budget, but could they have made the parasites a little more believable?  It doesn’t take away from the potential of the story line for me if they are 100% realistic or not.  The viewer has to suspend their disbelief to the max on this aspect of the story.  I feel that someone who doesn’t know what they’re watching could flip over to this and instantly think the show is hokey because of these rather fake looking parasites.

What saves this episode for me is the excellent performance, as always, from Leonard Nimoy.  Spock has to go through a lot here to find the solution of how to cure the Denevans of this affliction.  Isn’t it convenient that he has the forgotten inner eyelid?  Those Vulcans, saving the day in unexpected ways!

So, that ends the first season of Star Trek.  I will be writing a post in the next few days of my impressions of the season as a whole.  Of course, the regular weekly reviews will resume on September 15th with “Amok Time.”

Trek Review: “The City on the Edge of Forever”

It goes without saying that “The City on the Edge of Forever” is and always has been my favorite Star Trek episode.  There has never been any question of that.  But what makes it so great?  My review this week will attempt to explain why *I* think so.

The story is and of itself a great premise.  I say this of the finished episode.  There has been lots of articles and books written about the writing process of this episode.  In case you don’t know, the story idea was being worked on way back before the first season actually began filming.   The story was written, and rewritten, and rewritten again before we ended up with was was telecast 50 years ago on April 6th, 1967.

I must say, it was a true classic on the first viewing.  It remains a classic today for me and many others for one simple reason: it is deep.  The characters are so good in this story.  Kirk in love where he shouldn’t be.  Spock being the voice of reason he always is.  McCoy is the “random element” (as Spock puts it at one point), and Edith Keeler, played by the always dynamic Joan Collins, is a wonderful, fascinating, dynamic character. She is one of the best characters in any Trek episode.

The Guardian of Forever is a character in this too.  This mysterious portal of a long dead civilization that is the catalyst for the problem in this story is so fascinating.  I wish they would have found a way to do another story or two with the Guardian being possibly utilized in a more planned fashion that what happened here.   I know there is an episode of the animated series (“Yesteryear”) and several Trek novels that have explored the possibilities of the Guardian.  Honestly, I never read many Trek novels, although I do own a copy of the novel Imzadi” where the Guardian is used by Riker to travel back in time.

The climax of this episode is so riveting.  I have never watched this episode and have ever felt anything but tense and shocked by the decision that Kirk had to make to restore history to what it should be.  Just watch this clip.

I don’t know if I could have done what Kirk did given that situation.  It’s tough to make a personal sacrifice like that, even when the stakes of Earth’s future is on the line.  William Shatner plays the scene with all of his great talent.

I just can’t say enough good things about how much I have always enjoyed this episode.  It honestly has always deserved the recognition that it has gotten as one of the best episodes of any version of Star Trek there has ever been, before or since.

Next week, the season finale!  Blobs take over people’s minds, and well, Spock almost goes nuts!

Trek Review: “The Alternative Factor”

Where in the world do I begin to analyze this very confusing mess of an episode?

Any attempt by me to try and describe the plot here would probably confuse you even more and might melt your brain.  Suffice it to say that I don’t think anyone could do any better or worse.  If you are curious, just read the entry at Memory Alpha (the Star Trek wiki.)

This show was very troubled at every stage of production.  One of the great blogs out there that I love to read is Star Trek Fact Check by Michael Kmet.  He has done a whole series of articles looking through production documents trying to make some sense of what was going on behind the scenes in the production of this episode.  His blog was started to try and clear up misinformation printed in other books, but on top of that there is lots of great information about what was going on during the development of this disastrous episode.  Here is a link to Part 1 of his look at the production.  He will be writing more on the topic in the future.

It’s well documented that John Drew Barrymore had agreed to guest star in this episode and play Lazarus, only to not show up for work.  Desilu complained to the Screen Actors Guild and he got suspended for 6 months as a result.  Robert Brown had to step in on practically no notice and play this role.  He tried, but I don’t think any actor could have salvaged what was already a watered down, confusing script.

Let’s examine some of the many story points that I have problems with here:

The propensity for Lazarus to continue to fall off of cliffs and ledges is just flooring.  He does this multiple times throughout the episode.

I can understand it happening the first time, but *two* times?  Even the most inexperienced starship Captain would not let him go near a rock formation after the first time.  Maybe Kirk just hated Lazarus.  The galaxy may never know.

The cheapened Engineering set.  A set was already built, why did they go to this crappy setup?

I mean, it’s nothing but a small room with various consoles we’ve seen in previous episodes.  Granted, it was described in earlier drafts as the “Energizing Lab.”  Couldn’t they just have called it the “Dilithium Chamber Room” or something more conducive to it *not* being Engineering?  Another blemishing script detail that was overlooked.

Speaking of which, in that photo, is Lieutenant Masters, played by Janet MacLachlan.  She does as good as she can do here, but her role was to be so much bigger than it actually ended up being.  I refer to of course the fact that Masters and Lazarus #1 (the bad one) was supposed to have some sort of romantic relationship.  As the Fact Check article mentions, “Space Seed” also had a female crew member in love with the antagonist.  One of the stories had to be changed.   As a matter of fact, Stan Robertson, the NBC Standards and Practices representative assigned to Star Trek, suggested that Masters be a civilian instead of a crew member in order to make the plot in this episode make more sense.  That suggestion fell on deaf ears apparently, Gene Coon removed this aspect of the story.  I felt that if Robertson’s idea had been utilized, it might have made the story stronger and more coherent to me.

I get the story.  I get what it was aiming for.  Two beings in parallel universes.  The bad one, the negative one, trying to destroy the positive one and bring down two universes in the process.  Matter and anti-matter.  Like I said, it’s not that I don’t get the story idea at all.  It’s just that the execution of this is very, very sloppy, awful, painful, downright…. I think I’ve ran out of adjectives to describe the debauchery that is going on here.

I don’t think there is an actual soul out there that even likes this episode.  Is it the worst episode of the entire series?  I’m going to go out on a limb and say it very well could be.  If “Spock’s Brain” didn’t exist, I am sure that a lot of people would think that this would be the worst.  If you were to say this was the worst episode of the first season, then you would not be debated for an instant.

Fortunately, next week, we go from what could be the worst, to my absolute favorite episode of the entire Original Series:

Trek Review: “Errand of Mercy”

When this episode first aired, nobody had any idea that the Klingons would become such a formidable race in the Star Trek universe.  I certainly don’t think Gene Coon (the writer of this episode) would have thought that either.

I have always wondered exactly what Coon was drawing on in current events to craft this story of Kirk and Spock trying to win over the pacifist Organians from the militaristic Klingons.  Was he referring to the Vietnam war?  Maybe the Cold War?  It’s probably more an amalgamation of several conflicts.  Suffice it to say that war in any form is certainly not desired, but it happens.  Star Trek was sure at its preachiest in this episode, but that is definitely what the series has come to be known for over the years.  (This will be even more evident in the next season during “A Private Little War.”)

The ending on the other hand, is 100% pure Trek.  Just when you thought there was no turning back, these pacifists are much higher on the evolutionary scale than a mere mortal man.  Their power effectively ended the war before it really began.  Their influence even negotiated a peace treaty!

The 1967 audience would no doubt have thought that we would be seeing the Klingons again at some point in the future.  I admire the acting of John Colicos as Kor, he made a very formidable, very scintillating enemy for Barona…. er, Captain Kirk.

Unfortunately, we have to go from a great tale such as this, to a tale that is so broken, so painful to watch, so…. you get the drift.

Come back for a long rant next week about this:

Trek Review: “The Devil in the Dark”

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoy this episode.  “The Devil in the Dark” has always been in my top 5 for the entire series.  It possesses all of the elements that make a great episode.

I won’t go into plot details here because that would make this post longer than it should be.

What makes this episode stand out is the acting of Leonard Nimoy when he is mind-melding with the Horta.  To give you a small taste, watch this clip:

“PAAAAINNNN!!!” is what I will always remember.  As many fans know, William Shatner’s father died during the production of this episode, and it’s a long told anecdote of his that when he got back to the set and Nimoy did that bit for him, he said “Somebody get that Vulcan an Aspirin!”  Who knows if that is true or not, but it’s hilarious camaraderie on the set.

The moral questions raised by this episode are great ones.  When it is finally revealed that the miners have inadvertently been killing the Horta’s children, everyone takes the right course of realizing what had gone wrong and are truly sorry.  I always appreciated how everyone, while feeling they had to kill the creature to get the mining facility back up and running, that when they find out you have the last of a kind creature instead… you take a different spin.  The crew realizes that such creature had cause for what was going on.

Eventually, coexistence wins out.  That allegory still could teach everyone in this modern world, 50 years later.  A lot of people could learn from the other and coexist together.  At the danger of sounding political, that lesson is still very, very relevant today.

All in all, this is a top tier story of any Star Trek series.

No show next week, as Star Trek was preempted for an NBC special, so we’ll see you back in two weeks for the introduction of some people you might recognize!

Trek Review: “This Side of Paradise”

If you’ve ever wanted to see an episode of Star Trek where Spock comes out of his shell a bit.   You know, let the human half of him hang out…… that sounded gross, didn’t it….


Anyway, thanks to some spores on a planet where nobody is supposed to be alive, all of a sudden, Spock is bouncy and in love!

A truly great episode, “This Side of Paradise” is an examination of a world where the colonists should be dead, but thanks to the effect of some inconspicuous spores, they are alive!

I have always been truly fascinated by the character of Leila Kalomi (played so wonderfully by Jill Ireland.)  I would love to have more on the backstory of when she was interacting with Spock before their meeting here.  That would be an interesting love story to see unfold.  As it turns out here, Spock just simply cannot love her because of the way he is.

I loved the scene in the final act where Spock beams Lelia up and she realizes that he is no longer under the influence of the spores.  Just watch:

Both Leonard Nimoy and Jill Ireland are just so great in this scene.  It is one of the best scenes in the entire first season, and the tracked music from “Shore Leave” really is well used here.

The one problem I have with the plot of this episode is how the spores just all of a sudden take over the whole crew of the Enterprise.  I mean, couldn’t someone just stop it?  Surely there are enough knowledgeable people on board to not let the situation get out of control.  So much as to the whole crew beaming down to the planet against their will and putting Kirk in the highly dramatic situation of being marooned on his ship!

Don’t get me wrong, I like any excuse to see Shatner ham it up to the extreme as much as the next guy, but come on!  The whole crew?  I hear you out there again… “suspend your disbelief!!!”

But the solution is rather ingenious.  Sonic vibrations to drive the effect of the spores out.  Quite clever.

That’s it for this week… coming up next week, one of the top 10 episodes of the whole series!

Addendum to Yesterday’s Review: General Order 24

I failed to mention one thing in last night’s Trek Review of “A Taste of Armageddon.”  Kirk’s move to call for General Order 24 towards the end of the episode.

If you will recall, General Order 24 is described as such according to

General Order 24: An order to destroy all life on an entire planet.

Now, was Kirk bluffing, was he making up regulations?   Remember what he did in “The Corbomite Maneuver,”  in his great bluff of Balok to not destroy the ship.  I don’t think he was bluffing here.  While Kirk doesn’t have to go through with it here, the notion of it does come up again in the Third Season episode “Whom Gods Destroy.”  Captain Garth doesn’t go through with it then, either, but still… the notion of this order is frightening!

I don’t think Kirk ever wanted to go through with it, but given the situation of being held hostage by Anan Seven and the high council of Eminiar VII, he had no choice but to do his duty.  If I were in the same scenario, I would probably be a bit hesitant to do it, but ultimately I would do it too.

Does that make me a bad person?  Depends on your point of view, doesn’t it?

Trek Review: “A Taste of Armageddon”

What do you think of when you think of war?  The first thought that would probably come to everyone’s mind is devastation, chaos or innocent people who are caught in the middle of the conflict.  Now imagine if that same scenario played out, but there was no actual bloodshed.  Instead, the attacks are carried out by computers and the casualties are tallied up on a computer.  The victims of the “attack” have to step into a disintegration chamber and die willingly.  I’ve just described what is going on between the planets of Eminiar VII and Vendikar in the episode “A Taste of Armageddon.”

The subject of war is a very touchy subject, especially in 1967.  The Vietnam war was in full swing.  While this story wasn’t a direct result of that conflict, the end result of what took place on Eminiar VII certainly could be construed as a commentary about the war that was going on.

Think about this: any conflict is still a conflict, no matter if someone is actually shot or not.  People still die, especially in a disintegration machine.   That’s the point that Kirk hammers home, and it’s a very good one.  War is hell in every sense of the word.

In the case of these two planets, they’ve been at war for hundreds of years.  The conflict was handed down from generation to generation.  But why?  Why does an entire culture just blindly keep going on with the same thing that continues to cause death?   That would be an interesting philosophical debate.  I can only imagine that the terror of doing anything different is what kept the Eminians and their terrestrial neighbors on Vendikar locked into the conflict. Eventually, our heroes convince the two sides to negotiate and resolve their differences.

When I first saw this episode, that ending is the one I was hoping for.  I have a good feeling that it was what everyone viewing the show for the first time would have hoped for as well.

Spock practicing his mindful skills

If there is one cool thing I always liked in this episode, it’s the scene where Spock uses his mind probing techniques to get one of the guards to open the door to the room in which they are being held.






All in all, a great episode all around with themes that are just as prevalent today as they were 50 years ago.  Next week, an episode that was almost called “The Way of the Spores”!